A checklist for a challenging time
Given the typically long-term nature of our client relationships, we tend to work with clients during both the good times and challenging times of their lives. The loss of a loved one can be a particularly difficult time, requiring the fortitude to focus on what society and government require of us, even as we grieve and experience heightened emotions.
Adhering to a general checklist might be useful in the event that you lose a loved one. Of course, your estate planning attorney should direct you with specifics that are tailored to the deceased loved one’s planning documents and the jurisdiction involved; however, we believe there’s value in knowing, in a broad sense, what some of these steps might be.
1. At time of death: Funeral arrangements and notification of advisors
If the death occurred in a hospital, nursing home or assisted living facility, the medical or facility staff will coordinate with a mortuary or funeral home of choice to transport the body. If the death occurred at home, most states require a qualified medical professional to make the official pronouncement of death. Call the deceased’s physician or the county coroner’s office. You will also need to arrange for transport of the body according to the coroner’s instructions to the mortuary of choice.
If the deceased had funeral/burial plans, these should be followed. If not, the Personal Representative (also called Executor/Executrix or Administrator, depending on the state) should make the arrangements.
If you’re the Personal Representative (PR), you’ll need to consult with the deceased’s advisors – including their attorney, accountant, portfolio manager and others – before distributing assets or notifying any government agencies (such as Social Security) and banking, insurance, credit card or financial service firms. However, the PR should begin to safeguard assets and property immediately. Don’t remove or distribute any property before opening the estate or being named successor trustee. Contact these trusted advisors within the first couple of days after death.
A note to Personal Representatives: You'll probably end up paying out of your own pocket for some (or a lot) of the expenses related to the death. Save the receipts as these expenses will be reimbursed out of the deceased’s estate or trusts.
2. The first week after death: Secure home and locate important documents
As applicable, complete the funeral and burial arrangements. This may include transfer to another location, memorial services, etc.
Also obtain death certificates. The most common way to do this is through the funeral home. You may need more copies than you think (one for every institution where the deceased had accounts). You can request more later through the county where the death occurred, but it’s easier to get them from the funeral home. Information needed for a death certificate may include the following for the deceased:
- First, middle and last name (possibly maiden name if applicable)
- Home address
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Date of death
- Age at death
- Marital status
- Spouse’s first and last name (if applicable)
- Highest level of education
- Place of birth
- Mother’s and father’s names
- Military service information, if applicable
Secure the deceased’s home if they lived alone. This could include arranging for mail to be forwarded to the PR, having pets cared for, removing perishables and securing vehicles, electronic devices, etc. If the PR lives far from the deceased’s home, arrange for a trusted individual to check on the home regularly.
Secure the deceased’s digital assets (e.g., social media, email accounts, etc.) and beware of incoming emails with bills attached – some will be legitimate while some may turn out to be fraudulent (refer to the section below on unethical actors).
Locate the deceased’s will and/or trust documents. These are often stored in a safety deposit box or a safe, but the deceased’s attorney may hold a copy as well. If you believe the documents are in a safety deposit box, an heir or beneficiary may ask the bank to open the box to search for a will or burial instructions.
Also locate other important documents. These may include (but are not limited to):
- Funeral or burial plans
- Safety deposit box rental invoices and keys
- Statements/invoices for credit cards, utilities, phone, insurance, homeowners association (HOA) and others that need to be paid on a timely basis
- Life insurance policies
- Bank account statements and checkbooks
- Financial (brokerage) account statements
- Pension or retirement account statements
- Income tax returns (if you cannot find them, the deceased’s accountant should have copies)
- Deeds and/or mortgage statements
- Military records, if applicable
- Marriage, birth, death and divorce certificates
3. Within a month of death: File claims and notify key organizations/agencies
Meet with an attorney, accountant and financial advisor. If necessary, the attorney will help obtain court-issued letters testamentary for the PR/Executor, which will give the PR authority to administer the estate (such as accessing safety deposit boxes, transferring titles to cars and houses, etc.).
Here are some other key actions to take within a month of death:
- File any life insurance claims
- File any outstanding medical insurance and Medicare claims
- Cancel credit cards, prescriptions, newspapers and magazines, etc. (but check the statements to see what recurring charges, such as HOA fees, insurance payments, etc., are tied to the credit cards. These will need to be paid out of an estate or trust account until the assets are disposed of)
- Contact all three credit monitoring services (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) and obtain copies of the deceased’s credit reports – these services will want copies of death certificates/death notices
- Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel driver’s license, if applicable
- Contact Social Security/Medicare if these agencies have been making payments to the deceased. If payments were made after death, the PR can easily refund these – it’s a common occurrence
- Contact the Registrar of Voters to cancel voter registration
Beware of unethical actors
Once an obituary or death notice has been published, unsavory characters often reach out by mail, phone, email or even in person to take advantage of grieving, unsuspecting families. Be on the lookout for telephone and mail solicitation scams. “Invoices” might arrive that may look legitimate but ultimately prove to be fraudulent. Offers to assist with Social Security and Medicare are usually ruses designed to take advantage of the situation. It’s unfortunate that you must deal with such unethical actors during this difficult time, but you need to protect yourself, the deceased’s estate and their loved ones from unscrupulous activity.
While the checklist above isn’t exhaustive by any means, it should give you a strong starting point to deal with the death of a loved one – a time when you’re likely under stress, grieving and possibly not thinking as clearly as you normally would.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founded in 1994, Segall Bryant & Hamill (SBH) provides professional portfolio management of domestic and international equity, fixed income, and balanced portfolios, as well as alternative investments to institutional, intermediary, and private wealth clients. Our clients benefit from the expertise of our professionals, who have navigated diverse and challenging market environments and are experienced with all aspects of wealth planning. We understand the complexities that can come with managing your wealth. That’s why we take a comprehensive approach to the advice we give and the assets we manage on your behalf. This approach includes a personalized financial plan and tailored portfolio of individual stocks and bonds researched by our institutional investment team.
This information is for educational purposes and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, accounting, legal, tax, insurance, or investment advice. This does not constitute an offer to provide any services, nor a solicitation to purchase securities. The contents are not intended to be advice tailored to any particular person or situation. We believe the information provided is accurate and reliable, but do not warrant it as to completeness or accuracy. This information may include opinions or forecasts, including investment strategies and economic and market conditions; however, there is no guarantee that such opinions or forecasts will prove to be correct, and they also may change without notice. We encourage you to speak with a qualified professional regarding your scenario and the then-current applicable laws and rules.
Different types of investments involve degrees of risk. Future performance of any investment or wealth management strategy, including those recommended by us, may not be profitable, suitable, or prove successful. Past performance is not indicative of future results. One cannot invest directly in an index or benchmark, and those do not reflect the deduction of various fees which would diminish results. Any index or benchmark performance figures are for comparison purposes only, and client account holdings will not directly correspond to any such data.
Our clients must, in writing, advise us of personal, financial, or investment objective changes and any restrictions desired on our services so that we may re-evaluate any previous recommendations and adjust our advisory services as needed. For current clients, please advise us immediately if you are not receiving monthly account statements from your custodian. We encourage you to compare your custodial statements to any information we provide to you.